German bishops gather in Dresden to discuss the next stage of the national “Synodal Path”, the war in Ukraine, the upcoming World Youth Day in Lisbon, and abuse in the Church.
By Lisa Zengarini
The German Bishops’ Conference (DBK) is holding its springtime meeting this week, 27 February-2 March in Dresden.
67 Bishops are taking take part in the assembly whose main topic is the Universal Church’s synodal process launched by Pope Francis in 2021, and the parallel German Church’s “Synodal Path” (Synodale Weg) which is reaching its final stage.
A controversial process
The national discussion was launched by the bishops and the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) in 2019 with the stated aim of addressing the Church’s clerical sexual abuse crisis by debating and passing resolutions on whether, or how, the Catholic Church needs to change its approach on questions of sexuality and the exercise of power, including doctrine and the sacraments.
The several proposals that have emerged from discussions include controversial issues like putting an end to mandatory priestly celibacy, Church approval of same-sex marriages, women’s role in the Church, and laypeople participating in the election of their bishops.
The reform process, which has aroused reservations in the Vatican, including from Pope Francis, and among some German Bishops, also as to its compatibility with the 2021-2024 Universal Synodal Process, is expected to reach a turning point next week in Frankfurt with the establishment of a “Synodal Committee” tasked with formally instituting a “Synodal Council”, an advisory body divided more or less equally between bishops and laypeople entrusted with making “fundamental decisions of supra-diocesan importance”.
Vatican Nuncio: synodality in the Church is more than structures
Referring specifically to the recent exchanges between the Vatican and the German bishops on the latest developments of the process, in his greeting remarks to the session on Monday the Apostolic Nuncio to Germany Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, reiterated that synodality in the Church is more “a matter of spirit and style” than of “structures”.
“Rather than founding new institutions with the risk of further increasing bureaucracy, it is imperative to revive already existing diocesan bodies, such as the Council of Presbyters, the College of Consultors, the Pastoral Council or the Council for Economic Affairs, in a synodal spirit”, the Vatican representative remarked.
Bishop Bätzing: no one wants division
For his part, at a press conference on the same day, the president of the German bishops’ conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, rejected concerns that divisions over the national Synodal Path and its proposals would lead to a new schism in the Catholic Church, though recognizing that the process is complex and not “peaceful”.
“I don’t talk about (division) it because nobody wants it.”
Before the opening of the Assembly’s proceedings on Tuesday morning, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich-Freising called for more courage. “Why are we so afraid of what is to come?”, he asked in his homily in Dresden Cathedral, highlighting how the German experience along with the Universal Church synodal process is only “the beginning of a beginning”, like the Second Vatican Council was.
Other topics discussed at the assembly
Other important topics discussed during the German Bishops’ plenary include the ongoing war in Ukraine; the preparation of the upcoming World Youth Day in Lisbon; diocesan issues related to sexual abuse in the Church, and aid to the victims of the recent devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria, which has caused over 50,000 victims.
German Church’s solidarity with Turkey and Syria
The German Bishops’ Conference has announced an extraordinary collection on 5 March, the second Sunday of Lent, for the two quake-hit countries.
In a statement published on the DBK’s website Bishop Bätzing has called on German Catholics to contribute generously to the collection and to pray for all victims and also for rescuers. “Let us demonstrate once again that solidarity is a Christian virtue!”, he said.
On March 2, the DBK is expected to release a final statement.